Many people look forward to winter’s end. The snow melts, temperatures rise, layers of extra clothing come off, and flowers bloom–it’s a seasonal warm welcome!
Speaking of flowers, what better way to greet spring than to see tulips blooming in your garden? Tulips are definitely a favorite for gardeners, but if you want a colorful spring garden, you’ll need to do some prep work the previous fall.
Read on to learn all about planting tulips in the fall so you can prepare your garden for a lovely display come springtime!
Choosing the Best Tulips to Plant in Fall
There are many tulip varieties that you can plant. Many of them possess unique characteristics in regard to maintenance, lifespan, color scheme, special meanings, and more! It’s understandably hard to choose.
Here are a few examples of the best tulip cultivars to plant in the fall:
- Negrita: This tulip grows into a deep purple bloom and is versatile as a cut flower. It goes well with many flowers and consistently blooms year after year.
- Angelique: If you want to add a romantic feeling to your garden, this pale pink and peony-shaped Angelique Tulip is for you! Let its fragrance and long-lasting characteristics serve you well.
- Menton: A tulip that changes hues depending on the surrounding sunlight will add colorful effects to your garden. Though it blooms in late spring, it makes a great cut flower for its size.
- Estella Rijnveld: Tulips with only one color are good, but tulips with two or more colors are better, such as the Estella Rijnveld! Similar to the Menton Tulip, this frilly cultivar makes a good cut flower.
Purchasing the Bulbs
If you order your tulip bulbs and they arrive before it’s time to plant, you’ll need to refrigerate them. Tulip bulbs need to be chilled so they’ll remain dormant during winter. If you don’t chill it, the premature tulip will grow but die under the cold weather.
Make sure that the storage temperature is below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Buying tulip bulbs from a retailer or nursery will save you the trouble of having to chill them. That will only be if they’re available in the fall or pre-chilled.
Before You Plant the Bulbs
Check the Bulbs’ Features
To ensure you’re planting quality tulips in fall, inspect the bulbs. They should be firm and dense with papery skin and not have cuts, bruises, or soft spots. These infirmities put tulip bulbs at risk of carrying and acquiring diseases and harmful insects.
Note the Weather Change
Don’t rely on the calendar’s first day of fall to tell you when to plant your tulip bulbs. For most regions, November or late October is the best time to plant the bulbs.
Wait at least 4–8 weeks before a hard freeze or when the ground freezes to plant the tulips. Also, check that the outside temperature is consistently below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Find the Best Planting Spot
Tulip bulbs need to be sheltered from strong winds and receive 6–8 hours of direct sunlight in order to bloom. Of course, that will depend on the climate and cultivar.
If you plant your fall tulips in warm, hardiness zones, ensure their spot gets mostly morning sunlight. Too much sun in those zones could make the bulbs wither.
As for planting tulips in cooler, northern climates, their spot should have abundant sun exposure.
Some tulips don’t require a lot of sunlight and can accept some shade. Their planting spot needs at least 4–6 hours of sun exposure or partial shade.
The Process of Planting Tulips in Fall
Preparing the Soil
The soil should be fertile and well-draining and include sandy loam. It should also be neutral to slightly acidic and 6–7.5 pH. We recommend using a soil test meter to help you meet some of these soil needs.
Don’t forget to clear the soil of weeds and other debris!
Now that you’ve got your soil ready, it’s time to plant your tulip bulbs!
When planting tulips in fall, the depth and spacing of the bulbs will depend on your chosen cultivar. To estimate, your chosen bulbs may go 2–8 inches below the soil level and 4–6 inches apart from each other.
The bulbs’ flat ends go in first, as their pointed ends are where tulips start growing. Because tulips prefer organic matter in the soil, add some compost to the bulbs before filling in the soil.
After planting the bulbs and filling in the holes, lightly water the bed with a hose until the soil is moist. This will establish the tulips’ roots before their dormancy period begins.
Wait until spring when their leaves appear to water them again.
Newly planted tulips don’t need fertilizer since the bulbs have all the necessary nutrients. When the tulips are established, they’ll blossom yearly under proper fertilization.
Apply organic, slow-release fertilizer in late fall and early spring.
Coffee grounds and wood ash are good alternatives to chemical fertilizers. In fact, wood ash is perfect for controlling decay and fungal diseases. And coffee grounds will keep squirrels away!
Protecting Your Tulips
Planting tulips in fall includes protecting the bulbs from pests, diseases, and even premature awakening. Even before planting the bulbs, there’s always a risk of compromised blooms in spring.
Here are a few tulip threats and ways you can prevent them as you plant your fall tulips:
- Bulb flies
- Bulb mites
To deter squirrels and deer from reaching the bulbs, install a fence or some wire mesh around your tulip beds.
Underground pests such as bulb flies and mites feed on tulip bulbs before or after you plant them. Before planting fall tulips, ask growers before buying the bulbs if they were treated with hot water to destroy any larvae.
Keep some horticultural oil nearby in case you see any signs of these insects on your established tulips.
- Root rot
- Tulip fire
- Basal rot
Simply watering tulip bulbs enough to moisten the soil and without overwatering will prevent root rot.
Fungal diseases such as tulip fire and basal rot require pitching infected bulbs and tulips and sterilizing their soil beds. As mentioned before, inspect your chosen bulbs for any spots or blemishes and purchase them from reputable growers.
In addition, ask the growers if the bulbs were treated with a preventative fungicide.
If you plant your tulips in fall and endure temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, your tulips’ dormancy period may end prematurely. Tulips need 12–16 weeks of dormancy in wintry temperatures to develop and grow.
Add a layer of mulch over your tulip bulbs after you’ve watered them. Mulch won’t only prevent tulips’ early emergence but will also protect them from extremely hot and cold temperatures.
Planting Tulips in Pots
If you don’t have a garden or want to grow tulips inside, you can plant fall tulips in pots. You’d need a pot that’s 8.5 inches in diameter and 6.5–18 inches deep and has drainage holes. To plant more tulips in one pot, use one with an 18-inch-long diameter.
Pour in some potting mix until the pot is half full, and plant and space the bulbs an inch apart. To avoid overcrowding, start from the inside edge and move your way to the center. Then, cover them with more potting mix.
Place the pot in an area that’s below 60 degrees Fahrenheit for its 12–16-week dormancy. Water the bulbs thoroughly 2–3 times per week so they won’t dry out fast, unlike if they were in the garden.
When the dormancy phase ends, move the potted tulips to a spot that’s 60–70 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally where there’s sunlight. In a few weeks, your fall tulips will bloom.
Frequently Asked Questions for Planting Tulips in Fall
1. How many tulips can I plant together?
You could plant about 9–12 tulips together per square foot in your garden. Keep the size of your garden in mind as you plant your fall tulips in bunches.
For a complete look, especially to save garden space, plant the bulbs closer than 4–6 inches together. Spaces of 2–3 inches will do the trick.
2. Will my tulips grow well after their dormancy despite mild or extreme winters?
They will if you consider the type of winter you usually get. Depending on your hardiness zone, you’d have to plant the bulbs earlier or later than October or November.
For example, cold zones or northern climates may have you planting fall tulips between mid-September and October. And in hot zones or southern climates, the best time to plant them is between November and December.
3. How many years will my tulips last?
As perennial flowers, tulips will grow and bloom year after year after you first plant them. With proper care, your tulips will last about 3–5 years. Depending on the cultivar, some tulips, such as Emperor or Darwin hybrid tulips, may last longer than that.
Cut tulips will last about 7–10 days if you cut them at a good time. Changing the vase water every day or two and keeping the vase in a cool location will extend their lives, too.
Plant Your Tulips in Fall for a Colorful Spring!
Don’t just feel and listen for a sign of spring; see it through your newly bloomed tulips! Just like animals preparing for winter hibernation, prepare for a warm and inspiring spring welcome by planting tulips in fall.
Visit our flowers page to learn more about what flowers you can grow depending on the season!
- About the Author
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With a lifelong appreciation for the vibrant hues and serene beauty of landscapes, Sarah Keck brings a wealth of practical and observational gardening knowledge to her writing. Her hands-on experience stems from years of assisting her mother in tending a diverse array of plants, mastering the art of plant care through careful adherence to proven horticultural practices.
A seasoned observer, Sarah delights in the study and admiration of flourishing flower gardens and lush greenery during her frequent strolls through local parks and the quiet streets of her neighborhood. Her natural curiosity drives her to investigate various plant species, deepening her understanding of the flora she encounters.
In addition to her botanical pursuits, Sarah cherishes the culinary arts, drawing from her college experiences of handling and preparing fresh produce. Her penchant for discovery leads her to continually refine her methods, which she eagerly documents and shares with fellow gardening enthusiasts.